Speaking at an Iftar dinner hosted by the Victorian Parliament, Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow has described Australia’s commitment to multiculturalism as “stronger than the fear of difference; stronger than hatred; stronger than violence.”
Commissioner Santow said Iftar dinners, held during the month of Ramadan, “fundamentally repudiate a worldview that glorifies violence and hatred.”
In the aftermath of terrorist attacks in London and elsewhere, Commissioner Santow said: “I join with so many others in extending my sympathy, love and prayers to the innocent. And I condemn those who exult in wanton death and destruction. No religious or other ideology can possibly justify these acts.
“In Australia, our diversity is celebrated as a strength. Yet there are times when our commitment to embrace difference is tested.
“Now might be one of those times. There appears to be increasingly combative rhetoric about the value of multiculturalism in Australia.
“We should remember that every major Australian political party rejects racism and embraces a more open, multicultural ethos. Our laws are designed to promote equality and prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person’s race, their disability, their gender, their age… We should be proud of these things.
“But we should also be realistic in acknowledging that prejudice and discrimination continue to exist, and they affect some communities more than others.
“In Australia, equality and social cohesion depend on a combination of laws, policies and that amorphous thing we call ‘culture’. This can be threatened by anyone who claims some kind of religious justification for their violent, extremist ideology.
“Too often we’re told that liberty and security are mutually exclusive. They’re not. Our federal and state governments are absolutely correct to target violent extremism. And to do so robustly with the many tools that the state has at its disposal. This is important in protecting one of the most fundamental rights of all: to live in peace and safety.
“In Australia, equality and social cohesion can also be threatened in other ways too. There are increasing reports of attacks on people of faith and on freedom of religion.
“We also see too many reports of attacks on places of religious worship or people who are visibly religious.
“Addressing these problems directly takes time and creativity. Clearly, we need strong laws. But we also need education and simply to open the hand of friendship – just as the organisers of this Iftar dinner are doing.
“Australia is literally an island. But that does not mean we should retreat in isolation and fear.
“We as a community are strongest when we are confident enough in our own identity and values that we can assert those things while embracing the good in others.
“A community that acknowledges and values difference is better able to draw strength from its constituent parts. Terrorist events such as the weekend’s tragedy in London challenge us. Events such as tonight’s Iftar dinner help us to meet that challenge with confidence, emphasising our mutual respect.”